The Catcher in the Rye is a classic for a reason. In fact, its hype is justifiable. I picked up this book only recently. Honestly, I didn’t know what the book is all about or the controversy surrounding it. But now I have clarity on both.
I sat down to read this book on a lazy day in the office. It so happened that I was pulled into it soon enough, to have willingly gone for a week of this exciting journey with Holden – the protagonist. Holden is a 17-year-old teen, and the book is just 2-3 days of his life. The tone of the book stands true to Holden’s character all throughout. To give you the feeling, imagine a 17-year-old teen sitting beside you and narrating his story. It’s just like that, from how his roommate plucks pimples to his stereotypes and biases, they are clearly laid out in those pages.
But while he is all-over-the-place, the clarity of thought is appreciable. These are relatable complexities of our thought process. Once we open the book, it is like Holden is waiting to grasp our hand, get us to sit and talk all about his life.
When Phoebe, his sister asks what he wants to become in life, he says:
“…I keep picturing all these little kids playing some game in this big field of Rye and all. Thousands of little kids, and nobody’s around – nobody big, I mean – except me. And I am standing on the edge of some crazy cliff. What I have to do, I have to catch everybody if they start to go over the cliff – I mean if they are running and they don’t look where they are going I have to come out from somewhere and catch them. That’s all I do all day. I’d just be the Catcher in the Rye and all.”
The popular metaphoric understanding of this statement is how he wants to capture all the innocence from being corrupted by this world. And I can see why Holden failed to understand the ways of this world. It boxes people. It institutionalises children into schools and teaches them to be productive and profitable machines. Schools are, after all, the tried-and-tested manufacturing machines of employable individuals.
From language to science, mathematics and social science, these subjects help students fit the world and define it for them. There is no scope for questioning or creating our own realities. And once adulting hits them, these productive adults enter the comfortable corporate setting, where effectivity and efficiency are rewarded, and art becomes a luxury. We vacation in hotels and resorts and partake in the transient enjoyment of vanity.
Soon, our greed and lust take over, and we are bound to spend the rest of our lives in asylums and old-age homes regretting, not having lived a meaningful life. Life happens too fast till we realise that this was just a capital game and life was the biggest joke, where we were measuring our happiness on the scale set for us by the world.
The lockdown has had two clear affects: one is the lack of social life and two is the WFH culture. And you will have recourse from both through this book. I bet Holden will be your friend and let you make peace with the new normal. He will give you a million reasons to not fit in molds and quit the race set by the world.
The one thing that struck me among so many other things is how the author seems to have observed things in such detail. It is unbelievable that it is a piece of fiction. It is more like reading somebody’s diary. And when I finished reading it, it honestly felt like I lost a friend, who – while he is around, he bugs me with all his weird stories, but when he is away, I miss him. He just keeps me occupied with all these stupid things that may not matter to me in the long run, but just someone who is there, counting on me to keep all his secrets and comfortable enough to share all his sincere feelings.
And obviously, your interest might have been piqued by the ‘controversy’ part in my lead paragraph. So, let me do some justice to that as well. You know, John Lennon was shot by Mark David Chapman. Chapman was initially a great fan of John Lennon. But he went on to hate him when he realised how phony he was. His beginnings had been humble, and his songs always encouraged one to make peace with normality, whereas Chapman pointed out how Lennon himself was living an extravagant life. He was also angered when he noticed how distant and blasphemous he had become against Christ. Once Lennon had publicly made a statement that “the Queen is even more famous than Christ”, which supposedly hurt his sentiments.
After the murder, Chapman did not try to escape. Instead, he just stood there reading ‘The Catcher in the Rye’. He mentioned to the Court later that if someone would have examined the book in his hand, he had written ‘This is my statement’ on the last page.
About the Author: Akshita Pattiyani is an Editorial Assistant with Taylor and Francis Academic Publishing House. She is a community leader for the All Informa Nations initiative on Diversity, Equity and Inclusion at Workplace.